River Currents

by Free Speech on June 2, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Limits Are Not the Most Important Thing When Fishing

Lodi area bluegill fishing has been excellent!

Lodi area bluegill fishing has been excellent!

This is the time of the year when most fishing is very good and a few of the main reasons are that fish are in shallow water, accessible, and spawning. The water has warmed up considerably from those early April mornings when the water temperature was a chilly 40 degrees. A month and a half later, the water temperatures are in the 60’s on most local lakes and rivers with 70 degree water in some lake’s shallow and dark-bottomed bays.

Northern pike are the first fish to spawn in the spring when water temperatures hit about 40 degrees. Next, the walleyes spawn when the water hits the mid 40’s, then come the crappies in the 50’s, and finally muskies, both kinds of bass, and bluegills have spawned or are in the process of laying their eggs on their beds in the 60 degree plus water.

Most fish make their spawning beds in shallow water, usually less than 5 feet deep. Males are the first fish to get active and wait for the egg-laden females to find the proper habitat to lay their eggs which the males fertilize. Water temperature, the weather, and the proper bottom structure are the keys to when and where fish will spawn in the spring.

This is also when fish are most vulnerable to fishermen and other fish which will devour the young fry of the year as quick as they hatch. Bluegills and bass which are done or almost done spawning, typically bass have the male fish make a saucer shape indentation (beds) in the bottom of the lake and clear out any vegetation or debris with the fanning of their tails. The males also will chase other fish out of the area that they’ve made ready for the female’s eggs. Since the spawning fish are shallow and aggressive, the bluegills, bass, and other spawning fish are easy to catch. Any angler can cruise the clear and shallow water while wearing a good pair of polarized sunglasses and see the spawning fish on their beds. The month of May and June are the best months for sight-fishing with clear water and shallow fish. This is where I find a problem.

The future of fishing depends on informed sportsman.

The future of fishing depends on informed sportsman.

I know that I’ll get some negative feedback from what I’m going to write, but this has to be said so that the uninformed angler learns that fish populations are not endless and fishermen can easily wipe-out and destroy a fishery in a year or two. Most fishermen like to catch fish and it’s tough to beat a fresh fish fry of bluegills and crappies. The daily limit of panfish in Wisconsin used to be 50 fish of any combination (crappies, bluegills, perch), but some years ago this daily bag limit was lowered to 25 fish. The lowering of bag limits always brings a heated discussion at the Spring Hearings. But, it was necessary to maintain fish populations with proper game management.

Now and for the last month it has not been difficult for fishers to catch their limits of spawning and bedding panfish. There’s a certain mentality that one does not have a good day fishing unless they get their limit. The first thing that anglers always ask each other is did you get a limit? This should not be the most important thing when fishing. We all want to catch fish, but there are other factors that should be savored besides “catching a limit”. There is the camaraderie of being on the water with friends, teaching today’s youth the art of fishing, enjoying the beauty of nature, and relaxing from the stress of today’s world. These are just a few of the reasons why people fish and there are many more individual reasons.

We put so much emphasis on numbers and limits that we sometimes forget the real reason to fish. I’ve seen many lakes that have been “fished-out” in a couple of winters or springs when fish are most vulnerable and easy to catch. Two winters ago, the bluegills in Madison’s Lake Mendota started biting heavily in the middle of December and stayed in that general area all winter. These were the big ‘gills with the average size close to nine inches, but since then the numbers and size have dramatically dropped due to the heavy pressure that winter. When the word gets out that fish are biting, some anglers take advantage of the situation and regularly fish the fertile waters taking limits every day they fish. These same anglers feel that they have to make up for the times when they didn’t catch many fish. So, they catch and keep their limit as often as they can. The possession limit in Wisconsin is two daily bag limits or 50 fish of any combination. That means that you may not have more than that number of panfish in your freezer. I find eating fresh fish to be a real treat and eat fish every week when they are fresh. When you have a freezer full of fillets, you often end up throwing some out from freezer burn. I also have seen people keep a limit and get tired of cleaning them, so they end up throwing some fish into the trash. This is a tremendous waste of our great resources!

Lately, the fishing on the Madison Lakes has been very good with most of the lakes producing good numbers of fish. The parking lots at Lake Waubesa are jammed on weekends and sometimes full during the week. Many of the vehicles are even from out of state with anglers hearing about the great fishing on the Chain from the many different web sites that are available. The state needs to have visitors come to Wisconsin and spend money in our many fishing related businesses. There also is a “trickle down” effect where visitors spend money on gas, food, and lodging to name some of the main expenses of out of the state anglers. We need people to come here and fish, but everyone can’t keep all the fish they catch and still maintain the quality fishing that we have on area waters. You can do the numbers and see what an impact anglers can have on a fishery if everyone keeps their limit of fish.

Anglers have to practice catch and release on all fish species including panfish. Muskies are flourishing on many waters because of anglers releasing most of these fish, the walleyes and smallmouth on Lake Mendota are big and numerous because of higher size minimums and lower bag limits, and the walleyes and saugers on Lake Wisconsin are thriving because of the slot size limits. These are just a few of the success stories that have been made possible by proper game management by the Wisconsin DNR and responsible fishermen and women. I don’t want to see the daily bag limit of panfish lowered to 15 fish like Minnesota, but anglers have to learn to take just enough fish for a few meals and not the whole year. Fish are not an endless resource and the average angler must help if “good fishing” is to continue on the waters of Wisconsin.

I was out on Lake Waubesa recently with fellow guide, Ron Barefield, and the fishing was very good. But, I was going out of town and Ron just wanted enough fish for him and his wife that night. He ended up keeping 8 crappies with all being males. This is something important that we must think about these days, if we want the good fishing to continue. There are going to be times when you’re having friends and family over for a fish fry. These are the times when anyone will and can keep more than a few fish, but it can’t be done by every fisherman every time they go fishing. Next time, release some of those fish and particularly the females so that there is some brood stock for the future. If we teach our youth the importance of just keeping enough for a meal or two, then the future looks bright for our local waters. If not, fishing can go downhill quickly. The future of fishing is in your hands.

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